Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Review: Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher

“Carrie Fisher is apparently a celebrity of sorts,” Carrie Fisher writes at the beginning of her stage show-turned-memoir Wishful Drinking. “I mean, she was (is) the daughter of famous parents. One an icon, the other a consort to icons.”

I usually shun the “celebrity memoir” category; most of those books are ghost-written, often in voices markedly different from the people allegedly represented in the books. This leaves the impression of, “That’s right--your favorite celebrity is in fact a thirty-five-year-old Midwestern male exhibiting signs of oncoming baldness and a farmboy monotone.”

But there’s none of that here. Instead, we encounter a conversational and sharp narrative, not afraid to attack itself and cause a few laughs (mostly at the author’s expense). Carrie Fisher’s memoir--although certainly not a gem of fine “literature”--is entertaining, witty, and absorbing. Perhaps, because Fisher, within the opening pages of Wishful Drinking, informs her readers that she’s not here to get our pity or to make us understand.

Wishful Drinking is one prolonged and cathartic joke, drawing from celebrity parents and drug/alcohol abuse and acting school tongue twisters (we owe Princess Leia’s “You’ll never get that bucket of bolts past that blockade” to her training with tongue twisters such as “If I can’t have a proper cup of coffee / In a proper copper coffee pot / I’ll have a cup of tea.”) Through comedy, Fisher guides us through the darkness and depression of life with bipolar disorder and drug abuse issues.

This is the sort of book that one ought to read aloud; since Wishful Drinking began as a stage show, Fisher maintains that direct address, that constant communication with an audience. But her humor never flags. She at once seeks to include the reader in a conversation--to give us a little bit of an idea about who Carrie Fisher was (is)--and yet she also makes herself relatable by critiquing her own fame and icon status. She comments (and retaliates against) her various incarnations in the forms of PEZ dispensers and anatomically correct (I’m referring to below the waistline here) Princess Leia figures. But she also treats the downsides of her fame with this same wit: “Oh! This’ll impress you--I'm actually in the Abnormal Psychology textbook. Obviously my family is so proud. Keep in mind, though, I’m a PEZ dispenser and I’m in the Abnormal Psychology textbook. Who says you can’t have it all?”

While Fisher uses her quips like streetlamps to guide us through the dark streets of her life, one bright joke at a time, she lightly points out that (a) we are all a little bit crazy and that (b) we need to be able to laugh at our own idiosyncrasies. “Statistics,” Fisher writes, “say that a range of mental disorders affects more than one in four Americans in any given year. That means millions of people are totally batshit.”

And if anybody has the right to make that observation, it’s a woman who has had the displeasure of being leashed to a giant slug while wearing a steel bikini and who has been turned into a Mister Potato-head figure, a PEZ dispenser, and an action figurine with an “anatomically correct--though shaved--galaxy snatch.”

Carrie Fisher. Wishful Drinking. Paperback. Simon & Schuster. $13.95. 163 pp.


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